Persona 3’s ending made me appreciate all of life’s little endings
by Steven Strom
LB’s NOTE: I didn’t write the review that follows. I’m just the honored messenger who is bringing it to the attention of TVWriter™ visitors everywhere…because it’s awesomely written and filled with insight into the human condition and makes me want to run out and find this old game and play the living crap out of it even though I know the ending.
The writer here is Steven Strom of Ars Technica, and his approach to this piece about Persona 3 reminds me of the days way back in the mists of time when book reviewers understand the basic, gut reaction readers have to a wonderfully written novel and used that plus their own response as the basis for their recommendation.
That whole being-lost-in-the-wonderland-of-a-great-book-and-crying-because-you’ve-finished-and-it’s-all-over-thing doesn’t happen all that often anymore. Or if it does it certainly isn’t being talked about much. I never thought about game-playing being able to have the same effect. Now that I know it can, I’m more than impressed – I’m gratified by this amazing storytelling evolution.
My only tiny cavil about what’s coming is that Mr. Strom hasn’t told us the names of the writers whose backbone storyline made him feel so much. Or is that attributable to the artists? The entire game development team? I honestly don’t know, but I intend to learn more about how a game like this comes to be so I can enjoy such things even more.
That’s been more than enough from me. Read on:
It was easier for me to walk away from Persona 3 than I expected. The game about nine friends and a dog—which celebrates its tenth anniversary in the States this year—follows a similar arc to most role-playing games. That means the gang of plucky young people ultimately saves the world. Yet its 21st century characters and setting made Persona 3 far more relatable and endearing to me than the high-flying heroes of Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger. It helps, too, that this was the series’ first game to sport a now-signature blend of dating sim and turn-based dungeon crawling.
Playing Persona 3, I felt I was experiencing the first game designed to let me take my time. Whether that meant meeting up with a friend for kendo practice or hanging out with a couple of elderly used booksellers, there was nearly always something more digestible, recognizable, and less world-shatteringly urgent to do than fighting gods and monsters. It’s the kind of stuff that let me inhabit a game’s world for a bit rather than simply tour through it. Tearing up specters and saving the Earth from supernatural threats is fun, but it’s a bit harder to relate to in a way that feels like my real life.
By the end of the game, I was nearly as attached to the city of Iwatodai and its inhabitants as I’ve ever been to a real place. The downside is that this made it that much harder to eventually say goodbye to those virtual sights I saw and friends I made along the way. What made that goodbye easier was a special, quiet message before the closing credits—one that reminds me how to accept the end of comfort and friendship even today.
The one, true ending
Sure, it was a heart-wrenching lesson. The weight of time spent with people—even fictional ones—makes us feel comfortable around them. Dependent, even. When that comfort is gone, especially after taking 80+ hours of gameplay to get acclimated to it, it feels like one of the best, most reliable parts of your life is missing. You wonder what the hell you even did with yourself without that routine.
That’s how it felt for me nearly finishing Persona 3 a decade ago, anyway. Yet Persona 3‘s ending does something that I’ve seen replicated, but never quite matched, in its sequels. It made me feel good about that loss and the anxiety over what to do next that came with it.
Spoiler warning for a decade-old game. Reader beware….